Saturday, August 15, 2020

Interview with the Prince of Nothing


Prince of Nothing is a colleague, collaborator, and friend of mine.  Upon hearing of his OSR Kickstarter The Palace of Unquiet Repose, I suggested an interview... and he agreed.  

His blog is called Age of Dusk.  Without further ado, let us begin!

What misfortune led you into this racket?  Another way of saying it, how did you get your start in roleplaying games?

I started playing when I was about 14. Me and my friends were all addicted to Baldur's Gate and Baldur's Gate 2, and one day I read it was based on D&D so we bought a 2e DMG and player handbook and just dove into it headfirst. I stopped when I went to college, then picked it up again after a few years and got into the OSR again via blogs. My entryway was Grognardia and then nothing but YDIS for the first two years. My first review was a scatching takedown of ya boi's RPGPundit's Arrows of Indra and that's where I sort of got the taste for what I do. I figured I wanted to do something like that, only (marginally) more constructive. The rest is legend, wreathed in obscurity. 

Do you prefer to GM or play?  Why?

GM. I have a short time preference and my knowledge of RPGs is beyond that of mortal man. It's too easy for me to see the man behind the curtain, and there's only a few master GM's that I genuinely enjoy playing under for prolonged periods of time. When I GM I am constantly engaged, I do weird voices for all my NPCs. I get a kick out of entertaining people and I get a rush from challenging them. There's a sort of paternal pride you get when you run some noobies through a lethal OSR game and by the end they are sly, cautious, meticulous and precise. "My fighting force," I say in my best Captain Lorca voice during the session end.

How do you currently feel about the OSR?

Everyone is very keen on declaring that the OSR is dead for the umpteenth time but I suspect that's mostly wishful thinking. "The OSR was mostly Google Plus hangouts and conversations." Self-congratulatory revisionist nonsense. Look at all the fucking kickstarters for pete's sake! DCC is still going strong, Lotfp pulled out of its nosedive, B/X Essentials is the new hip thing and its a dog-fight on who gets to be the next trendy hipster arthaus emmy-magnet game, with a toss-up between Mörk Börg, Troika! and even less palatable alternatives. The ethos of the OSR, modules not stories, actual play, emergent gameplay, simple character creation and high lethality have risen and we shall not see an end to them in our lifetimes.

OSE 100k kickstarter ffs!

Tell me about the adventure you've written, what's it like, what was your inspiration, goals, and how did that come about?

Red Prophet Rises? I wrote a fairly positive review about a submitted adventure for a man called Malrex with a little-known publisher called the Merciless Merchants. We talked and I gave him some tips on the use of language and he asked me whether I wanted to collaborate on a little module called Khazra's Unending Blöt. I was in between jobs so I said fuck it, why not? I fell in love with it immediately. It was rough, uneven and some of the parts didn't quite gell. I rewrote it from the ground up, magnified all the good parts and turned them up to eleven. The result is a motherfucking masterpiece of Sword & Sorcery. It's a term that gets tossed around left and right but few people actually get what it's about. It's Conan the Barbarian (the movie!) meets Mad Max on peyote. Brutal Violence in a stark environment. An Evil High Priest presiding over Sacrificial Duels to the Death. Naked Berserkers covered in ritual scarring, their battle cries transformed into metallic roars by their bronze bull-masks. Prisoners you can free, procedures in case you are discovered, places to hide. 

Since I read religiously I combined that with an insane focus on usability so everything is legible, easy to use during play, there's helpful patrol schedules, effective layout etc. etc. My inspiration was my love of Sword and Sorcery, R.E. Howard, Karl Edward Wagner, Fritz Leiber and definitely some Warhammer Fantasy. It's included in the higher reward tiers so if you sign up you can check it out alongside my new adventure.

You've been reviewing OSR adventures for awhile now, what are your top five and a brief reason why for each?

Obviously I would include Cha'alt in there but since it can only be rated in Zulkiers it stands on its own as an entirely separate category. I'd put some TSR classics like Tomb of Horrors in there no problem. But you wanted OSR: 

5  - Better then Any Man by James Raggi - It's what you get when Raggi actually gives a shit. Historical fantasy, apocalyptic scale, brutality, an insect cult, a city under siege and its all a fucking sandbox, the madman. By far the best thing he has ever done.

4 - Slumbering Ursine Dunes by Chris Kutalik - A pointcrawl that feels like a slyly homo-erotic version of Jack Vance doing his best Eastern-European fantasy impression. I can't do it justice, it's just so charming and weird and it can only exist in the OSR.

3 - Thulian Echoes by Zzarchov Kowolski - Genius take on a time-travel adventure. You play a bunch of idiots dying in a dungeon, and then your actual players find their diary and get to play the dungeon again, but their actions in the past change the dungeon in the present. Genius. 

2 - Mines, Claws & Princesses by Steven Oswalt - I am a sucker for the classics and this nails it on all fronts. Oswalt channels Patrick Stuart in creating a Wagnerian Epic where our heroes must beat the shit out of a dragon. Everything is infused with a teutonic splendor. Pig-faced orcs, crow spies, talking animals it's EXACTLY what I want from my games. 

1 - Many Gates of the Gann by Guy Fullerton - It's deep. The environment can be manipulated and flows together in a way that other modules simply do not accomplish. The way the dungeon flows, the different factions, the hints, the easter eggs. It just betrays such a deep comprehension of the fundamentals of dungeon design. That's what I wanna be when I grow up, I say to myself, when I read that. On the level with the old TSR greats. 

You've been working on something new and just launched a Kickstarter to fund it, give us the scoop on that.

FINALLY. Okay, so after Red Prophet Rises elevated Merciless Merchants to greatness Marlex was like WE GOTTA DO ANOTHER ONE. I'd made some setting posts here and there about my own S&S setting, the Age of Dusk, set in the Lands of Autumn in a time aeons in the future, when the gods are dead, horrors of ages past prowl the arid wastes howling for blood and man has but little time left until the Final Night. I on occasion will write hooks or adventure seeds for it but there is a huge difference between a blog post and a publication. To get me to actually do anything you need to either A) hide my stash of goverment heroin which you very cleverly did when I collaborated on Cha'alt (no really I am not even mad, I am impressed!) or B) be some sort of cross between Mother Theresa and the Furies and that's what Malrex did when he became my producer in chief. 

For two fucking years we collaborated on PALACE OF UNQUIET REPOSE, a batshit insane grimdark S&S meatgrinder where our heroes will descend into the depths of the earth to raid the vaults of Uyu-Yadmogh, long-dead (or is he?) Archmage and Devourer of Children. The end result is finally done. Now we need money for art. Because there are gods watching over me granting my every prayer in my bid for dominance of the OSR we managed to snag James Vail (author/artist of Xas Irkalla, google it) and Chris Cold, two brilliant artists, to do the art for palace. It's been 2 days and we are at 3k, we funded in 13 hours. People know its going to be genius. Malrex keeps fainting and having to be re-animated when he considers how many module writers will have to burn their laptops, knowing they can never eclipse a masterpiece of such terrible splendor. I haven't stopped screaming since we launched the kickstarter, summerian death-chants and Celtic Frost Lyrics. Throw away your Death Frost Doom little Timmy, Uncle Prince has got you something spiffier.

Tell me about your work on that thing you called... Cha'alt, was it?

Cha'alt you say? This all started with a skirmish in the comments section of Bryce's tenfootpole blog where you felt you were poorly treated [He's talking about Dead God Excavation, which has a 4.5 star rating on DriveThru] and I took it upon myself to give your work the treatment it deserved. I also ended up shooting it in the face, but it was the beginning of a spree of VS reviews, some of them very nice. 

One day I woke up, ready to take my much needed insulin shot, and it was gone, and you'd left a piece of paper with purple letters cut from magazines, spelling out what I needed to do to get it back. Classic Venger. I think you were in a bit of a rut but if anything Cha'alt showed everyone that you still had the chops. I was on the team to get you back in shape, hell, I was the team. That meant no more breakfast, lunch AND dinner at Wendy's. Exchange that purple truck for a purple bicycle. We tried to do the Empire Strikes back thing with the Yoda training montage but I don't know how a grown man is supposed to climb in a backpack and that somersault over a tree ended up just pitching us both in the swamp. I don't think we made it very far into that obstacle course. Sometimes I still wake up with nightmares of inhaling bog water.

In all seriousness. I think the best thing I did was reinforce the notion of adding an extra layer of interactivity to all of the encounters in Cha'alt. A lot of your stuff is creative but it would just appear and sit there. With my sage advice, everything in Cha'alt is doing something, interacting, or has something going on beyond combat. That's what allows it to work even if you run it Arcade style. Those playtesting sessions were a blast! Nomad made it all the way to the end.

If RPGs were outlawed, what creative thing would you be doing instead?

Probably some combination of level-design for Doom or Thief, wargaming and writing. Also I would be starting up forlornly at the night sky, yearning for elfgames, dreaming dreams that I know are undoubleplusgood. 

What RPG thing do you see yourself working on in the future, 2 or 3 years from now?

I have a trilogy planned out for this one, all focused on the evil deceiving Tzyanese. The whole thing is that they know they are damned and are searching for a way to escape that. The first is Palace of Unquiet Repose, where you follow a wizard who has looked for a personal method of salvation (and failed horribly). The second is a project called Vaults of Oblivion, where you go into an extraplanar stronghold where a group of renegade Tzyanese have been breeding for evil and magical ability to countless aeons until they are no longer human. The third will tackle the biggest thing yet, a hexcrawl leading up to the Weapon, the gnostic WMD that killed the gods and is killing the world. Pretty excited. 


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